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Few Clouds 41° Good Afternoon
Long Island

8 LI school districts try to meet evaluation deadline

Amityville Memorial High School on June 5, 2011.

Amityville Memorial High School on June 5, 2011. Photo Credit: Alexi Knock

With the clock ticking, eight Long Island school districts scrambled Monday to win Albany's approval of teacher-evaluation plans in advance of Thursday's deadline.

A total of 116 districts in the Nassau-Suffolk region already have plans approved, and officials in the eight others interviewed by Newsday Monday voiced confidence that they would meet the state's target date, also. Failure to do so could cost some districts more than $1 million in state aid.

State law requires that all school systems draft new blueprints to evaluate the job performance of teachers and principals, and to do so with the agreement of unions representing those employees. This has not proved easy, especially in districts that are simultaneously negotiating new pay contracts with the same unions.

"I'm optimistic that, in the long run, it's going to be positive for us," said John R. Williams, school superintendent in Amityville, which has 257 teachers and 3,000 students. "But it's unwieldy putting the whole thing together."

Williams, who has negotiated a plan for more than a year, spent an hour-and-a-half on the phone Monday with a representative of the state Education Department, going over revisions in the district's draft blueprint. Amityville's union leaders joined in the conference call. Williams hopes to have a final plan ready for board approval Tuesday afternoon.

Statewide, 656 districts had plans approved as of noon Monday, according to the Education Department. Twenty-nine other districts had submitted plans but not yet obtained approval. They included the Island systems of Amityville, Connetquot, Montauk, Oysterponds, Patchogue-Medford, Shoreham-Wading River, Quogue and Wainscott.

In addition, six districts, including New York City, by far the state's largest, had not submitted plans.

The state's evaluation system, based largely on student test scores, was adopted in 2010 with the agreement of state and New York City teacher representatives. The agreement was instrumental in the state's winning nearly $700 million in federal Race to the Top funds aimed at improving the nation's academic standing.

"We've made remarkable progress," said state education Commissioner John B. King Jr. "Our staff is available around the clock to help districts meet the deadline, even at this late hour. But this is not a rubber stamp process. We will not sacrifice quality for expediency just to approve a last-minute submission."

Most negotiations on the Island have proceeded quietly, but there has been some public rancor.

Earlier this month, Shoreham-Wading River's school board issued a statement, contending that its efforts to forge agreement on an evaluation plan had been "thwarted" by unionized principals and other administrators who wanted pay-raise requests settled simultaneously.

On Friday, administrators signed on to the evaluation plan, according to district officials. Stephen Donohue, president of the Shoreham-Wading River Administrators Association, did not return Newsday's call.

William McGrath, the board president, said Monday he was pleased by the agreement. "Nobody's happy that it took as long as it did, and we're gonna work to improve things," he added.

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